The Wesleyan Church is a Protestant, evangelical, holiness denomination with more than 5000 congregations with 370,000 members in more than 90 countries. The denomination is headquartered in Indiana and is led by the General Superintendent, who guides the vision, key message, and missional priorities for the Wesleyan Church. In 2008, Jo Anne Lyon was elected as one of three General Superintendents–the first woman ever elected for the job. In 2012, she became the sole General Superintendent–the “Pope” of the Wesleyan Church. I recently spoke with Jo Anne about her role.
Tell me how you got here, to be the General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church.
Well, I founded World Hope International in 1996. Actually started it in our bedroom in a parsonage in Missouri in 1996 before we moved to D.C. in 2000. In 2008, I was elected a general superintendent—kind of like a bishop. There were three of us at the time I was elected, but then we moved to having just one. It’s the top job in all the world for the Wesleyan church. At this point, as far as denominations are concerned, I’m the only woman in the evangelical world that’s the head of any church.
So what are your responsibilities?
A major piece is being a spiritual and administrative leader of the church. It’s not like [the role of] a CEO; I’m the spiritual leader of the church. I promote the mission and vision of the church—and that includes working in 90 countries overseas. Then we have over 1700 churches.
My biggest responsibility is keeping the church being the church in the Lord. The church does not have a mission in the world; God’s mission has a church in the world.
What’s your biggest goal this year for the Wesleyan Church?
I’m very evangelistic and we want to bring more people to Christ and people born to serve Jesus. So biggest goal would be to bring more people to Christ, and [do so in a way that] they’re not just a number but they learn what it means to be Christ person, a Christ follower in the world and live like Jesus. Our mission statement is transforming lives churches, and communities through the hope and holiness of Jesus Christ.
What were your thoughts/emotions the moment they announced your election to GS?
Well, you know, I’d been working throughout the church a lot … I was also working in Washington. Prayer was a part of this. You know, I guess I would like to say, this was another step in where God is leading me. I just kept moving.
What is your biggest leadership challenge?
Discerning what God is saying. Wisdom in decision making. Wisdom in the vision. Wisdom to know the church in this world … it makes me go back and read church history. My discernment process involves listening to God, listening to other people speaking into your life when they don’t know it. I also listen to what I’m reading.
What do you think is the number one problem facing Western Church?
How is the church going to look differently from the Western lens? The Christian Church is larger. How does the lens of the African church compared to the Western? Also, the church need to keep its focus on the principles of Jesus. What does it mean to love your enemies, to do good for these enemies? What is the power of love in this culture—the power of love and community?
We are a culture of greed. How do we live to be a culture of generosity to how do we transform a culture of greed to one of generosity? How do we live biblical lives and live on biblical foundation? For the person living in the U.S., aware of our privilege, what can they do to help besides just give money to organizations?
People need to read and understand what is going on in other parts of the world. How many people read The Economist? Foreign Affairs? The newspapers don’t have sections for this—they’re very focused on football. Part of [the answer] is educating yourself. Get to know other people outside your culture. In America, we’re drowning in our own prosperity. I once heard someone say to North Koreans, “We’re praying for you.” They said, “No, we’re praying for you.”
As I lead the Wesleyan Church [in such a way] so that we don’t drown in our own prosperity. The church most effective in exile. And so, I’m praying that I can help people see they are the Church in this time. Be the force. My vision would be that we would lead a church as effective as John Wesleyan because of the transformation of people.